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Posts Tagged ‘God’

courtesy of wikipedia

Carlton Pearson, image courtesy of wikipedia

In one of my very first posts, I wrote that Julia Kozerski needn’t worry about losing herself while pursuing her goal of losing weight. My logic was that her movement towards a healthy body is inherently a dramatic, radical change, which, even if the change is positive, could feel like losing oneself since she was accustomed to defining herself by her unhealthy weight. One requirement of pursuing a big goal is re-evaluating how we define ourselves, and being prepared to release long-held beliefs if they become obstacles to our mission. I still believe that a pursuing a noble goal with a fulfilling journey is immeasurably valuable, and therefore worth pursuing at any cost, but one story educated me on how high that cost can be.

Last month, National Public Radio’s This American Life broadcast a story on Carlton Pearson, a once-superstar fundamentalist preacher and board member of Oral Roberts University who, in 2002, began to preach that all people, regardless of deeds, sexual orientation, or faith, will go to heaven. What would be known as the Gospel of Inclusion, Mr. Pearson discussed the night that convinced him to diverge from his fundamental theology:

“I was watching the evening news. The Hutus and Tutsis were returning from Rwanda to Uganda… Now, Majeste was in my lap, my little girl. I’m eating the meal, and I’m watching these little kids with swollen bellies. And it looks like their skin is stretched across their little skeletal remains… And I, with my little fat-faced baby, and a plate of food and a big-screen television. And I said, “God, I don’t know how you can call yourself a loving, sovereign God and allow these people to suffer this way and just suck them right into Hell,” which is what was my assumption.

And I heard a voice say within me, “So that’s what you think we’re doing?”

And I remember I didn’t say yes or no. I said, “That’s what I’ve been taught.” 

“And what would change that?”

“Well, they need to get saved.”

“And how would that happen?”

“Well, somebody needs to preach the Gospel to them and get them saved.”

“So if you think that’s the only way they’re going to get saved is for somebody to preach the Gospel to them and that we’re sucking them into Hell, why don’t you put your little baby down, turn your big-screen television off, push your plate away, get on the first thing smoking, and go get them saved?”

And I remember I broke into tears… I remember thinking, God, don’t put that guilt on me. You know I’ve given you the best 40 years of my life. Besides, I can’t save the whole world… And that’s where I remember, and I believe it was God saying:

“Precisely. You can’t save this world. That’s what we did. Do you think we’re sucking them into Hell? Can’t you see they’re already there? That’s Hell. You keep creating and inventing that for yourselves. I’m taking them into My presence.”

And I thought, well, I’ll be. That’s weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. That’s where the pain comes from. We do that to each other, and we do it to ourselves… I saw how we create Hell on this planet for each other. And for the first time in my life, I did not see God as the inventor of Hell.” – Carlton Pearson, This American Life, “Heretic”

Mr. Pearson followed his heart, despite decades of believing otherwise and the material wealth that came with it. How high was the cost?

Russell Cobb Finally, in 2004, in an official ceremony, The Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops formally named him a heretic. Carlton’s congregation, once 5,000-strong, dropped to around 200 people with some very worldly consequences.

Carlton Pearson I mean, my offerings dropped $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a week.

Russell Cobb $30,000, $40,000, $50,000?

Carlton Pearson Yeah. My offerings, my Sunday morning offerings, about half a million dollars a month almost. I mean, salaries of $100,000 a month. You know, how can you operate if I’m paying $100,000 a month in salaries?” Transcript, This American Life, “Heretic”

His congregation left him, the greater fundamentalist community shunned him, and now he was saddled with debt. Was it worth it?

“My friend, Bishop Yvette Flunder of Fellowship International in San Francisco, is a same-gender-loving female who’s been with the same partner for about 18 years. I spoke for one of her conferences two or three years ago. Most of the people that were there, if not all of them, were gay, but followers of Jesus and spirit-filled, tongue-talkers, deliverance, the whole thing.

When I finished speaking, and this has never happened to me in the history of my life, when I finished preaching, they stood and applauded me. I preached the Gospel of Inclusion. They stood. And she asked me to walk down through the center aisle and let the people hug me because she knew I had been bruised from my other people that had kicked me out of the charismatic world.

So these people start hugging me, and holding me, and loving me, and shaking my hand, and where everybody was crying and stuff. And when I turned around, she had come off from where she was. And they had a little vat, a little something, a container with warm water in it. And they asked me to sit down and take my shoes off, and they washed my feet. She washed my feet. That’s one of the holiest moments of my life.” – Carlton Pearson, This American Life, “Heretic”

I won’t attempt to quantify these events to measure whether his radical philosophical shift was worth the hardships that came with it, but the fact Rev. Pearson continues to preach the Gospel of Inclusion speaks volumes. His story also makes me consider how wealth, fame, and power amplify action, and the burden that comes should such resources reinforce an action in conflict with our own heart’s desire.

Whether we agree with him or not, Rev. Pearson valued his own truth over the material benefits of someone else’s. I don’t know which path is harder to follow, but I do know the value of going to bed having lived that day following your heart’s desire. I pray Rev. Pearson has many such evenings.

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Anyone who’s known me a while knows I’m a lifelong fan of the Oakland Athletics. And after years of futility, I’m giddy they finally returned to the playoffs this year. They have since lost their first two  playoff games and are on the verge of elimination, but I’m still optimistic. And yes, I’ve seen Moneyball. And yes, it was awesome.

Many a memorable ballplayer has come through Oakland. Reggie Jackson. Catfish Hunter. Rickey Henderson. My all-time favorite player, Dennis Eckersley. I could go on and on, each player with an intriguing story behind his greatness.  But this post is not about them. In fact, it’s not even about a player who made it to the big league club, but his story might be the most fascinating of all.

In the 2nd round of the 2007 draft, the Oakland Athletics selected Grant Desme, an outfielder from Cal Poly Pomona.  After battling injuries his first two years in the minors, Grant had a breakout 2009 season, flashing both extraordinary power and speed, hitting 31 home runs and stealing 40 bases. Later that year Grant, along with other top prospects around the minor leagues, would play in the Arizona Fall League and, competing against future superstars like Giancarlo Stanton, Buster Posey, and Starlin Castro, Grant outperformed them all, hitting a league-leading 11 home runs (10 of them hit in an unreal 10-day stretch) and earning that year’s MVP award. Grant’s future in baseball was bright.

Of course, it was not to be. 2009 would be the last year Grant would play professional baseball. But his dream of playing professional baseball wasn’t dashed by injury or drugs or psychological issues. Grant gave up a life of superstardom for the priesthood. In January of 2010, Grant would retire from baseball and move into St. Michael’s Abbey, 10 miles east of Irvine, to join the Norbertine Order. He now goes by the name Frater Matthew.

Many of us know stories of people finding contentment through faith and spirituality. They were depressed and felt something was missing until they “found God.” Maybe that’s your story. The most extreme of us leave the rat race altogether to join a monastery, to live up in the mountains, to meditate for hours on end. They search for “enlightenment,” or “nirvana,” or “God’s calling.”  They abandon their worldly possessions for something greater, and they say they’ve never been happier. But how could deprivation be so fulfilling? Why can’t pursuing worldly measures like money or power yield such satisfaction? And what about this can we apply in our own lives while still keeping our iPhones?

Explaining why he gave up the riches of baseball, Frater Matthew provides one answer:
 

The human heart yearns for the infinite,” Frater Matthew says. “It’s why things are not always fulfilling. We always need more. Every experience is good, and then when we get used to it, it’s not good enough. We want something more intense, more fulfilling. – Frater Matthew (Grant) Desme

If we follow this reasoning, then the fundamental differences between material pursuits and spiritual ones become clear. If our heart is so relentlessly hungry for a certain experience, then our heart can only be consistently fulfilled by those experiences that are infinitely abundant and readily attainable. Material pursuits like money can never be infinite, and ultimately our hearts become starved when we reach our limit of attainment. Social capital like fame and influence must be bestowed upon us by others, so dedicating our lives to attaining social capital would make happiness beyond our control.  But personal, immaterial pursuits like service, knowledge, God’s love, craft, and artistry ARE infinite, and are always available to us if we are open to them, regardless of material limitations or social standing. Our heart can pursue such experiences fully and never worry of limitations or deprivations.

From that perspective, Grant’s choice to leave a life of fame and fortune makes perfect sense. He released his desire for home runs to nourish his desire to know God. And I respect his courage to pursue his own joy, defying others’ expectations. Expectations like leading a Major League Baseball team. From the brink of elimination. To their first World Series Championship since 1989.  That was 23 years ago. Urgh, now my heart aches…

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